Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition
The fly-bys are a perfect example of how Rockstar San Diego really honed the overall visual presentation. The game isn't radically different than the series second entry visually, and it's certainly not the prettiest racer out there, but it does deliver a fantastic sense of speed thanks to some clever high-speed blurring and simple but effective texturing of the environments that lets you pick out the occasional detail when they go whizzing by at 200 miles an hour (they do look pretty blurry and have to render in after every race when you pop back into the free-roaming mode to look for the next race, though).
All this blurring and the high polygonal detail of the cars (which you can really get a good look at during races by just pausing and then rotating the camera around with the right analog stick) means the framerate is rarely smooth for very long. Big crashes, big air, or just random happenstance seems can slow the visuals to a crawl, sometimes dipping things into the single-digit framerates. It's unfortunate, and does affect the races from time to time, but for the most part things are relatively smooth when you're either ahead of or behind the back (which is most of the time).
If nothing else, the audio in Midnight Club 3 hold the distinction of being the most impressively hearty soundtrack offering I've ever seen packed into a PS2 game. 103 tracks ranging from Hip-Hop to Techno to Rock to "Dance Floor" to Drum 'n' Bass are available, though with the DUB distinction in the title, it's no surprise the emphasis is on the Hip-Hop side of things. I didn't expect the Techno section to come in second, nor for the balance to be pretty decent throughout, though the selection of some of the songs, particularly Marilyn Manson's "Rock is Dead," was a little odd. Still, it was nice to see the former Angel Studios giving a little local love to San Diego natives Unwritten Law.
The effects are little more passive, though. When the music is kicked in, the sound effects tend to blend into the general mix, so engine revs aren't as guttural and clean as, say, Need for Speed Underground's effects work, and the tire squeals and shattering glass are oddly muted at times. It's not a huge deal, since most of that won't matter when you're careening off a raised bridge on the last section of an all-important circuit race, but you do tend to notice the overall mix when on the starting line (not to mention hearing the start of a whole hell of a lot of songs as you restart over and over again).
There's so much about Midnight Club 3 that just plain rocks. The sense of speed is amazing, and when the game is working right and the races don't seem impossibly unfair (such as when zipping around with the amazingly agile sport bikes), there's so much fun here it's hard not to gush about the game. But reality quickly sets in the more you try-and-retry your way through the Career mode to get access to all those goodies you want to unlock to show off to people online.
Later on, it can feel like the game is offering you a sweet, succulent mix of high-speed racing, awesome control and tons of near-miss bliss akin to Burnout, but the racing lines, brutal AI and unforgiving recovery from mistakes (why the HELL do I respawn into a corner after crashing there, couldn't you at least put me back on the track?) grabs that mix, takes a giant crap all over it, and then forces you to pick through the poo to find the still-heavenly bits. They're certainly there to be found from time to time, but you'll have to dig through a lot of crap to get them, and for most, it'll be too frustrating an experience to go through.